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Mar 12 / WSU Pre-Health

Making the Best Out of Each Situation

The one question every applicant is bound to face whether in professional school or job interviews is, “describe a time you faced a challenge and how you overcame it.” At first, such a question may seem frightening as you instinctively search for the most elaborate circumstance in which you succeeded. However, the truth is most interviewers do not care so much about the specific circumstance but more on how you handled the situation.

Instead of succeeding in an argument or ‘coming out on top’ you may have gained insight; humbleness or cooperation in team learning are all strong qualities interviewers are looking for. Essentially, interviewers are interested solely on what you learned and have applied instead of how good you looked to your superiors. The situation need not be a face-to-face situation and can as simple as a phone conversation. The key is to absolve the difficulties of the situation and transform them into positive learning experiences.

Take the following scenario for instance:

You receive a call one afternoon from a disgruntled patron in your family business because they cannot find details on a specific product. Unsure of the specifics yourself, you begin searching your database for possible answers. Mid-way the patron becomes belligerent, swearing at you directly before hanging up. Frustrated, you step back and calm down before phoning your manager. You explain the situation and express the need for help. Together, you write a list of the previous questions asked, the answers, and a list of possible questions which could be asked next. You then phone the patron back and add your manager as a third caller to assist the patron further. As the patron picks up, you introduce yourself and mention your manager is on the line to assist further. Appreciative of your loyalty and dedication to your customers, the patron apologizes and has their questions answered fully. Your manager is also appreciative of your ability to recognize when you need assistance and your professionalism.

Such a scenario is typical in retail and is a suitable example. The question now becomes, “what did I learn and how can I apply it to position x?”. Answering this question will be easier and less nerve-wrecking if you spend a few minutes writing the situation down and answering these questions (answers are provided as example from the above scenario):


  • How did the situation happen?

I received a call from a patron regarding specifics on an item we sold. Upon mentioning I did not have the specifics they were looking for, the patron became aggressive over the phone before hanging up on me.

  • What happened specifically to each party?

– Myself: I was sworn at and hung up on.

– Patron: I could not provide the information necessary to the patron’s satisfaction.

  • How was the situation resolved?

– I called my manager and asked for assistance. Together, we called the patron back and answered all questions to the best of our knowledge.

  • What were the outcomes for each person involved?

– Myself: I was successful in answering all questions for the patron with assistance of my manager.

– Patron: Received the information they required and apologized for their                                      belligerence.

  • What did you learn from the situation?

– I learned I could approach a difficult situation by stepping back and calming myself down before attempting to resolve the situation. I became aware of my own capabilities and realized when it was appropriate to ask for assistance. I learned to remain calm in intense situations and feel capable to do the same in any environment or situation.

  • How can you apply this knowledge in the workplace/learning environment?

– As a result of this learning experience, I am more confident in my abilities to cooperate with my peers in tackling a difficult situation. Sharing responsibility and combining ideas is much easier and efficient than one person operating alone. 


Once you have answered these questions, practice answering the question, “describe a time you faced a challenge and how you overcame it” out-loud and with proper body language. Verbally repeat the question then pause a few seconds before responding. It is important to keep your answer sufficient, stating key words such as “this situation taught me x” and “I have grown as a leader/person because of this situation”.

Preparing for your interview is as simple as this. Go through each popular question during an interview and prepare succinct answers for each question. Practicing with someone who can provide positive criticism is always important as well.

Keep in mind this process can be applied for any life event or situation. Are you preparing for your medical, pharmacy, or nursing school interview? Did you happen to run into a scenario with your GPA being low for a semester or two? Do not dwell on the negatives of these situations. Focus on what you learned instead. Perhaps after the two semesters of scoring below a 3.5, you realized you needed to develop a strategy which works best for you. Prove you are capable of learning at the rate professional schools present the material, by showing your enthusiasm and having a plan of action to perform well and efficiently.



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